Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--Bridget Berry, a homeless mother of six children, hugs boyfriend Ricky Bass, center, after they were told to leave the Luxury Inn & Suites on Claire Ave in Gretna, La. Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015. Berry who paid in advance for the week has nowhere else to go because many rooms are filled because of Mardi Gras and the money won't be refunded for sometime. Her used Suburban vehicle has no heater so she won't be able to sleep there. The Louisiana State Fire Marshal and Gretna code enforcement informed occupants of the hotel to leave immediately after various code and electrical violations were found.

Gretna has asked a state district judge to shut down the Luxury Inn & Suites for up to five years, accusing the owners of the Claire Avenue motel of allowing it to become a hotbed of criminal activity.

The suit seeks a judgment against the motel — which is temporarily closed by order of the state Fire Marshal’s Office — under a state law that allows the courts to shut down a business deemed a public nuisance.

The closure, if ordered by 24th Judicial District Court Judge Adrian Adams, would be for at least six months, and the owners would have to post a surety bond of up to $50,000 if they want to reopen within five years.

The suit, filed March 16 by Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson on behalf of the city, alleges owners Mehmood “Mack” Kahn, Chetna Hira and Sunil Patel have knowingly allowed the motel to become an environment in which drug- and weapons-related crimes, thefts and violent acts abound.

The hotel, at 1411 Claire Ave., “poses a strong public safety issue to its patrons, the surrounding neighborhood, the residential area directly adjacent to it and generally to the citizens of Gretna,” the suit says.

The suit says that in 2013, there were 250 calls for service and 110 arrests at the property, and that number jumped to 425 calls and 250 arrests last year.

“My client is in the process of renovating the building, and it is his intention to have it totally in code when it reopens,” said lawyer Joe Raspanti, who represents the motel’s owners. “He fully intends to comply with the law.”

The hotel was closed Jan. 29 after inspectors with the Louisiana Fire Marshal’s Office found a number of safety issues, including faulty electrical wiring that caused small fires in rooms.

If the judge orders the motel closed and the owners post a surety bond, the city would be able to collect financial damages from the bond if the owners are found to be in violation.

The city is seeking damages and attorneys’ fees, as well as up to $10,000 in civil penalties.

A hearing was set in the matter for April 15, though Lenny Levenson, the attorney representing the city, said he expects that will be delayed briefly to accommodate attorneys’ schedules.

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